That Time I Won a Free Stay at an All-Inclusive Resort in Barbados

As someone who’s always been a sucker for deals and freebies, the phrase “all-inclusive” is like music to my ears. So a free all-inclusive experience? Now you’re really speaking my language! Moreover, a free, all-inclusive stay on an idyllic Caribbean island? This must surely be the stuff of dreams.

But my trip to Barbados last September was no figment of my imagination. Here’s how I won a free stay at an all-inclusive resort in Barbados last year and spent four fabulous days immersed in paradise.

Waves Hotel & Spa pool, Barbados

Feeling lucky in Barbados

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

Somehow, over the past few years, I’ve developed a habit of entering promotional giveaways whenever I have a bit of spare time. I recognize that I’m unlikely to win most of these, but half the fun is simply fantasizing about the prize. The contests are quick to enter, and I’ve created a separate giveaways-only email address to avoid cluttering my main inbox with spam, so there’s nothing to lose. So far, I’ve had some luck winning small but useful items, like gift cards, a pair of running shoes, a nice cooler, and some Christmas-scented candles. But nothing compared to my victory last May.

SAG Awards Prize

The more typical level of prizes I’m used to winning. Very much appreciated an enjoyed, but these are no $2500 Expedia voucher!

The instantaneous nature of entering these giveaways means that, half the time, I don’t even fully understand what I’m entering to win, and most of the time, I forget about them as soon as I enter. So when I received an email with the subject line “Corona Extra Fine Life Live Sweepstakes Winner!” last May, my expectations were low. I figured I’d probably won some sort of Corona-branded T-shirt or a coupon for discounted beer. Nice, but nothing to write (or blog) home about. So imagine my surprise when I learned I had actually won a $2500 Expedia voucher to use toward any hotel, flight, or flight + hotel package booking!

More Trip Planning Details Than Anyone Ever Needed to Know

To me, planning a trip is almost as enjoyable as travel itself, so I immediately jumped onto Expedia and began playing around with trip ideas. To make the most of the voucher, I figured my best option was to book a flight + hotel package to one city with the conditions a) that destination alone could keep us entertained for about a week (since the voucher wouldn’t allow us to city-hop) and b) we could find reasonably-priced flights to that destination and splurge more on the hotel.

So where to? Tokyo? Nah, Japan was still enforcing COVID travel restrictions. Madrid? My favorite city in the world, but I’m kiiiind of an expert on doing Spain on a shoestring. Somewhere in Italy? Enticing prospect!

Within hours, my boyfriend and I honed in on Florence. Beautiful hotels, amazing food, a walkable city center, affordable flights, and plenty of interesting day trip options in case we grew tired of the city. Given my passion for trip planning, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that I’d soon compiled a complex spreadsheet with multiple options for travel dates, flights, and hotels, all of which would be 100% covered by the $2500 voucher. But when we settled on a specific combination and I tried to book it? Expedia informed me the voucher would only cover half the trip. Still a great discount for a weeklong trip for two to Italy, but I’d won a voucher, not a 50% off coupon!

Taormina, Sicily

Never fear! We wound up making it to Italy a few months later. Here’s me in Taormina, Sicily (not Florence) this February, but that’s another story for another time.

Long story (somewhat) short, I spent a few weeks troubleshooting and finally discovered that the only way to avoid paying half the trip out of pocket was to use the voucher just for accommodation and pay for the flights separately. So it was back to the drawing board. This time, I thought, “Where can we find cheap(ish) flights where we can also splurge on a luxury hotel?” That led us to the Caribbean, I narrowed my search down to countries I hadn’t been to (because why not visit a new country instead of a U.S. or UK territory?), and then I began checking out the resorts each country had to offer.

The first resort I stumbled upon was Waves Hotel & Spa in Barbados. As I continued exploring other options around the Caribbean, Waves kept returning to mind as the perfect embodiment of what I was looking for in a free trip. Beachfront property, rooms with ocean views, on-site activities like water sports, totally all-inclusive (activities, food, and drinks—even cocktails!). One of the things that enticed me most is that Waves is part of a hotel group, and guests can visit (and dine at) three of the sister hotels by hopping on their complimentary water taxi. Best of all, thanks to the voucher, I could book four nights in their nicest room without paying a dime.

Waves Hotel beach, Barbados

Waves Hotel’s prime beachfront location

I’ve already gone into way too much detail about the trip planning and haven’t even yet reached the trip itself, but one more factor that worked out beautifully: I had found good flights to Bridgetown, Barbados but hesitated to book them after observing an increase in price. But when we landed in Oaxaca (read more about that trip if you haven’t already!), I checked the prices again. Because I was booking from a Mexican IP address, we wound up saving about $80 per person.

Free hotel? Check. Lower airfare than expected? Check. So with that, mere hours into my first international trip since the pandemic, the next overseas trip was booked!

(In the Parlance of 2022 TikTok) Can We Skip to the Good Part?

Labor Day weekend arrived before we knew it, we toggled our vacation responders on, and we embarked on our journey to Barbados. After a red-eye to Panama City, Panama, a short layover, and a brief flight to Bridgetown, we finally touched down. We dashed through a downpour to the customs line, caught a taxi, and then our all-inclusive stay began.

Panama City airplane view

Flying into Panama City, Panama. Fortunately, I got to spend time outside the city’s airport back in 2017

By the way, before I launch into my effusive praise for Waves Hotel & Spa, let me clarify that this is not sponsored content (although, hey, Marriott and Elegant Hotels, I’m here when you need it!). It’s simply that I’m—understandably—still giddy about the stunning resort that became our home for a few days, totally free of charge.

When we arrived at Waves, the hotel staff greeted us with a refreshing grapefruit rum cooler that went straight to our heads after a full day of flying. They let us know our room would be available soon and invited us to kick off our stay with a meal (all included, I remind you!) at their café. Jetlagged but thrilled, just as the rain began to subside, we found a table outside the café overlooking the ocean. We sipped our welcome drinks, dined on tasty paninis, and captured countless photos of the surreal view that would be ours to enjoy for the next few days.

Waves Hotel welcome drink

Welcome drink with a killer view

Before long, our room was ready. The hotel staff said there had been some sort of mix-up, so they’d have to downgrade us from their junior suite to their regular ocean front room for the first night. I felt a twinge of disappointment, but how much can you really complain while enjoying a free resort stay?

However, when we entered our “downgraded” room, it looked exactly like the pictures of the junior suite that I’d seen online. I thought perhaps there had been a miscommunication and we’d wound up in the suite after all. However, it turns out that the two rooms are more or less the same size, but the junior suite has an additional closet/entrance area that is honestly kind of useless.

My big tip from this experience: if you’re considering a stay at Waves and are looking for a room with a balcony overlooking the ocean, the room they call “Ocean Front Room, Guest Room” is typically about $100 per night cheaper than “Ocean Front, Junior Suite” yet is virtually the same. Go ahead and save some money by booking the guest room. That said, I do definitely believe the ocean front rooms are worth the splurge compared to the pool view rooms.

Waves Hotel Barbados room

The first night’s “lesser” room. Note the sparkling ocean just beyond our balcony!

No Sunset Regrets

In the days leading up to the trip, the weather forecast was far from promising. A hurricane had almost trapped us in Oaxaca a few months prior, and now another hurricane was on its way toward Barbados. Even after this hurricane changed its course, it seemed we were destined for four days of gloomy skies and rainfall. So much for that ocean view. With my expectations low, my one hope for our trip was that we would witness one—just one!—memorable sunset. Even if it rained every other minute of the trip, that one sunset would be enough for me.

So imagine my delight when the sun began its descent on day one and conditions were perfect for a spectacular sunset. We posted up on the sandy shore to watch the sun dip below the ocean, and as the sun sank lower, the sky’s colors intensified. Vibrant yellows transformed into radiant oranges and then transitioned into a mesmerizing palette of pinks, purples, and blues over our panoramic view of the sea. Honestly, I could have gone home the next morning and been totally chuffed with our trip.

Barbados sunset

Night one’s spectacular sunset

Sister Resort Sightseeing

I previously mentioned that one of the reasons I wound up choosing Waves over other Caribbean resorts was its complimentary water taxi to other resorts in the Elegant Hotels group. The second day of our trip began with clear skies, and we eagerly boarded the water taxi bound for sister resort Crystal Cove. While our visit reaffirmed our decision to stay at Waves, Crystal Cove’s oceanfront pools, swim-up cave bar, and buffet lunch made it an excellent outing.

Crystal Cove, Barbados

Crystal Cove

The following day, we took advantage of the water taxi again, this time to a resort called Tamarind. Tamarind is significantly bigger than Waves or Crystal Cove and seems to cater more to families with children. While I didn’t fall in love with it the way I did with Waves, I relished the chance to explore different pools and sample Tamarind’s bars and poolside restaurant.

Tamarind, Barbados

Lounging at Tamarind

Spending a few hours at these sister resorts allowed us to trick ourselves into feeling like we were embarking on a sightseeing excursion without having to lift a finger. We were able to explore new scenery, try out new restaurants, and enjoy a scenic boat ride, all while still maximizing our poolside and beachfront lounging time.

Fine Dining—Key Word “Fine”

The all-inclusive dining experience really transported me back to the cruises of my childhood, and there’s always something fun about ordering whatever you want without worrying about the bill. Plus, the restaurants at Elegant Hotels, especially at Waves, are beautiful. Waves boasts three dining options: a casual café, an open-air restaurant overlooking the ocean that alternates between buffets and regular sit-down meals, and an Asian-fusion eatery in a delightful wooden hut.

Seascape Restaurant, Waves Hotel & Spa, Barbados

Our final dinner at Waves’ Seascape restaurant

That said, the food was fine. Okay, let’s be honest: for free food, it was pretty darn good. It just didn’t blow us away or anything. But do people really flock to Barbados for the food anyway? Plus, we Angelenos have set a high bar with our outstanding restaurants. If you’re reading this because you’re considering a trip to one of the Elegant Hotels, I’m not trying to scare you away from the food. It’s all perfectly good, and there’s quite a bit of variety! Just don’t expect any culinary revelations.

Getting Wet and Wild at Waves

One of the highlights of our stay was the variety of complimentary water sports available. Tubing, Hobie Cat sailing, standup paddleboarding, kayaking, and water skiing were all on the menu. On day two, we embarked on a leisurely Hobie Cat sail, basking in the afternoon sun while our enthusiastic guide regaled us with insights about Barbados and treated us to breathtaking views of the coastline. On day three, I had my heart set on tubing (the kind where you’re pulled behind a ski boat) but was told the water was too choppy, so we opted for a scenic kayak ride instead. On the final day, the staff said the ocean was still too rough to go tubing, but they took pity on me and let me go anyway. Turbulent indeed, but well worth the bruises!

Kayaking in Barbados

Kayaking! That’s Waves behind us.

When we weren’t venturing out to sea, the resort’s beach, just steps from the lobby, was the ideal haven for soaking up the sun or floating in the warm, clear water. And when we needed a break from salt water, we had two pools to choose from. One pool was even adults-only, which could have provided some much-needed respite from rambunctious kids, although Waves seemed to attract mostly an older clientele.

Goodbye to Our Bajan ‘Cation

The four days we spent in Barbados flew by fast but also allowed us to do just about everything we wanted at Waves and its sister hotels. It was tough to leave, but we left certain we’d be thrilled to return any time. Flying from Los Angeles to Bridgetown is far from convenient (the trip took about twelve hours each way), so we may not head back right away, but if we could get to Barbados more easily, I’d be happy to return every year. And judging by the other guests at Waves, it seems there are a ton of satisfied repeat visitors.

Waves Hotel balcony view, Barbados

The unbelievable view from our balcony

If you live somewhere closer to Barbados or are undeterred by long flights, I’d highly recommend a stay at Waves—even if you weren’t the lucky winner of a $2500 Expedia voucher. It’s surprisingly affordable for an all-inclusive resort, the views are amazing, the staff is friendly, there’s plenty to keep you occupied if you like staying busy, and there’s tons of room for relaxation if you’re looking for something more mellow. Prior to this trip, I never saw myself as the all-inclusive Caribbean resort type (it’s a far cry from my $5/night hostel stays), but I am now a devout convert.

Well, I’d better go back to entering giveaways. Where in the world will my luck take me next? Keep your fingers crossed for me!

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